Southern Decadence goes ‘under the big top’

David Preda, Arcade Editor

The intersection of Bourbon and St. Ann streets marks the beginning of New Orleans’ gay district. The intersection itself is home to three of the most wildly popular gay bars in the city: Oz, Napoleon’s Itch and The Bourbon Pub & Parade, known colloquially as The Pub, New Orleans’ largest gay nightclub. From Aug. 27 to Sep. 1, this particular intersection will serve as the hub for one of New Orleans’ largest gay events, Southern Decadence.

While Southern Decadence is now known for its celebration of gay culture in New Orleans, it did not begin that way. Inspired by Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a group of tenants at the aptly named “Belle Reve” house in Treme began Decadence to celebrate the lavish lifestyles of the wealthy in the South. In 1972, Southern Decadence began as a house party. Guests were invited to dress up as their favorite Southern characters. The parade tradition began the following year, as the tenants and guests wanted to show off their costumes in the French Quarter. The parade became annual, though not all of its grand marshals were gay.

By 1981, Decadence had morphed from a small house party to the beginnings of what contemporary attendees would recognize as the event. The festivities catered almost exclusively to the gay community.

Since its inception, Southern Decadence has gained the attention of the world and ranks in the top five grossing tourist events in New Orleans, and, with an expected record-breaking amount of more than 150,000 festivalgoers this year, the event planners have gone all out.

The 43rd anniversary of Southern Decadence is themed “Under the Big Top: Welcome to the Gayest Show on Earth.” Local gay icons Chad Boutte, Reba Douglas and Aubrey Synclaire serve as the Grand Marshals. They decided this year’s festival colors would be yellow, turquoise and white. They named Britney Spears’ “Work B****” as this year’s song. The Grand Marshals will also lead the Sunday afternoon parade.

At the heart of the New Orleans gay scene, leather bars like Phoenix and Rawhide will host porn stars and amateur strip offs. Those less interested in the leather scene can take walking tour of gay landmarks in the city or compete in the high hair contest at Good Friends Bar. Oz and Bourbon Pub will play host to a multitude of events, and stay open 24/7.

During Southern Decadence, even traditionally straight bars have drink specials and attract non-gay attendees. But, to get the full experience – including seeing men of all shapes and sizes walking around in jockstraps – find the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon, and let your gay flag fly.